Tongariro Northern Circuit: A North Island Great Walk

a hiker on the Tongariro Northern Circuit with Mt Ngauruhoe in the background

The Tongariro National Park in the North Island of New Zealand is home to some excellent hiking tracks. It’s also home to one of the three North Island Great Walks – the 3-day Tongariro Northern Circuit.

The Northern Circuit is often confused with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the differences between the two trails is not always clear. We offer two guided walks in the Tongariro National Park and we cover both of these trails.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most well-known day-walk in the Tongariro National Park. At 19.4km in length, it has been rated as the best day-walk in the world, but it is not classified as one of New Zealands’ 10 Great Walks. Most hikers begin at the Mangatepopo trailhead, cross over Red Crater at the summit of Mt. Tongariro and finish up at the Ketetahi carpark.

We do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track as part of our 3.5 day Tongariro Hiking Tour. Because we’re in the park for 3.5 days we have the luxury of choosing the best day, weather-wise, to attempt this track.

If you’ve done the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, congratulations! But you’ve by no means done the best walk in the Tongariro National Park! That title goes to the Tongariro Northern Circuit.

The Tongariro Northern Circuit

The Tongariro Northern Circuit officially begins at Whakapapa Village, near the Chateau Tongariro hotel. Most hikers skip the Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut section of Day 1 and simply begin at Mangatepopo trailhead, setting off alongside the Tongariro Alpine Crossing day-hikers.

From Mangatepopo, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the Tongariro Northern Circuit trails are one and the same. The Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk follows a large portion of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track and takes in all the highlights, the big views and the Instagrammable locations you’ve seen.

Once you’ve reached Red Crater at the summit of Mt. Tongariro, the crowds of hikers separate. Those folks completing the Alpine Crossing continue north and begin descending down the flanks of Mt. Tongariro to Ketetahi carpark, while the Tongariro North Circuiters veer off to the east and drop down into Oturere Valley and continue on to Oturere Hut.

The section of trail between Oturere Hut and Waihohonu Hut might not be long, but it is one of the most unique, amazing stretches of trail in the North Island. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else in New Zealand and certainly no other New Zealand Great Walk can match this kind of volcanic, alpine landscape.

Waihohonu Hut is the Hilton of all DoC Huts. With 28 beds, it’s not the biggest hut in the backcountry, but it is the most well-designed. Huge windows are specifically positioned to allow hut users spectacular views of the sunsets dropped behind the mountain-line. Generous communal cooking and dining spaces bring hut users together and encourage a lively atmosphere. Interpretation materials have been placed on table tops under protective glass so you can sit, have your hot cup of coffee and leisurely learn about the environment around you.

Just a short stroll from Waihohonu Hut are two points of interest that require a side-trip. The historic Waihohonu Hut, and the Ohinepango Springs. The original, bright red Waihohonu Hut still remains in place and is a perfect example of the history of backcountry tramping in New Zealand. It’s a fascinating look into the past and must be commended for it’s tenacious hold on the landscape in a very unforgiving natural environment.

Ohinepango Springs is a gushing well of artesian water from the depths of the rocky plateau. It spends decades filtering through layers of volcanic rock to burst forth in roiling mushrooms of clear, delicious sustenance. It’s worth emptying your water bottle here to refill it with spring water and be reminded of how water should taste.

The Northern Circuit leaves Waihohonu Hut and loops back around to Whakapapa Village. The trail meets up with the Taranaki Falls waterfall loop track, where you’ll see a beautiful 20-odd metre high waterfall crashing down into a boulder-ringed pool. From here it’s a short jaunt back to the Chateau Tongariro and a well-deserved cold brew in the Chateau Lounge.

Tongariro Northern Circuit Guided Walk

Our Tongariro Northern Circuit guided walk begins at Mangatepopo and finishes up at Whakapapa Village. We spend 2 nights in backcountry DoC huts, the first at Oturere Hut and the second at Waihohonu Hut. We complete the track in 3 days and 2 nights.

We offer a full guided walk holiday package. We’ll take care of all your food, accommodation, snacks and drinks while you’re with us. Our guides carry most of the food on their backs and they will prepare, cook and serve meals in the hut dining areas. This is not a pack-free walk, you’ll carry your clothing, personal items and sleeping bags on your backs.

We specialise in making the North Island Great Walks easy and accessible for our hiking community. Choose Walking Legends for a smooth, all-inclusive, educational experience on the North Island Great Walks, you’ll have a fantastic time!

For more details on the Tongariro Northern Circuit guided walk, see the full itinerary here.

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